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Shuai case resolved, thorny legal issues remain

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A resolution that spared Bei Bei Shuai more jail time and dropped murder and attempted feticide charges filed after the death of her newborn daughter did little to clarify the state of the law under which she was prosecuted.

Shuai was charged after her newborn daughter died days after her delivery by emergency caesarian section at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. Shuai had told friends that she consumed rat poison days earlier in an attempted suicide after the baby’s father jilted her. Her friends persuaded her to seek medical attention.

shuaiFilePhoto-15col.jpg Defense attorney Linda Pence, left, insists the murder and attempted feticide charges against Bei Bei Shuai should never have been filed. Shuai’s case ended Aug. 2 with her plea to a misdemeanor. (IL file photo)

More than 30 months later, the Chinese immigrant walked free after the prosecution and defense teams reached a resolution. At a late-afternoon hearing Aug. 2, Shuai pleaded guilty to Class B misdemeanor criminal recklessness, and the state dropped the murder and attempted feticide charges.

Marion Superior Judge Sheila Carlisle accepted the plea agreement just hours after she and state court staff had briefed reporters and distributed decorum orders in anticipation of a high-profile, weeks-long trial for Shuai that had been set to start Sept. 3.

After the Aug. 2 hearing, defense attorney Linda Pence said the outcome was about the best her client could have hoped for short of dismissal. Shuai was sentenced to 178 days, but time served exceeded that amount. “She has served her time in this case,” Carlisle said in approving the plea agreement.

 “It feels great,” Shuai told reporters after the hastily called final hearing in her case, which lasted less than 30 minutes. “I can tell you I feel great relief.”

Shuai, 36, signed a plea that admitted she “recklessly performed an act, specifically: ingested Brodifacoum, that created a substantial risk of bodily injury to a person, that is: Angel Shuai.”

But Pence says the case never should have been filed, and has called the prosecution cruel. “This woman was in the throes of depression,” she said as she stood next to Shuai after her plea. Pence said Shuai was prosecuted for actions she took that weren’t crimes.

Despite a resolution that allowed Shuai to walk free from murder charges that had been pending more than two years, Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry said he disagrees with Pence and said the law is on his side.

“We prevailed on the legal issue as it pertains to the interpretation of the statute,” Curry said in an interview, pointing to the Indiana Court of Appeals ruling in Bei Bei Shuai v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1106-CR-486. The majority in that opinion concluded “the murder statute is unambiguous and its plain language encompasses (Shaui’s) alleged actions, and she does not have immunity from prosecution.”

Curry said his office received more than 200,000 emails from around the world objecting to the Shuai prosecution, but he said public pressure didn’t motivate his decision to offer the deal. Rather, Curry said the deal represented a recognition of adverse rulings from Carlisle that limited or might limit state’s evidence, as well as a desire to preserve Shuai’s immigration status.

Rulings that limited testimony of pathologists in particular led to the question, “Are we really going to go (to trial) with half our case?” he said.

Presented the same set of circumstances, Curry said he was “not 100 percent sure” he would proceed again as he did in Shuai’s case. “I feel we have approached this in good faith from the first day. Our responsibility is to take the law as it’s given to us by the Legislature. We can’t pick and choose and say the Legislature is misguided in enacting this.”

But Pence said she had been prepared to proceed to trial and call as many as 80 witnesses, including lawmakers, legal scholars, health experts and others who would have testified that a law enacted as a policy response to much-publicized violent attacks against pregnant women was being twisted.

Pence said the Court of Appeals dissenting judge who would have dismissed the charges against Shuai properly ruled, and that she’s exploring whether there might be a vehicle to present the Indiana Supreme Court with the question of whether I.C. 35-42-1-1(4) applies to the actions of pregnant women.

Terry Curry Curry

Curry and Pence agree that there appears to be a need for lawmakers to clarify the statute. Until then, Pence said pregnant women risk being charged for anything they do that a prosecutor may believe contributed to the death of a child.

“The dismissal of the case does not alleviate concerns of other women throughout Indiana who are or may become pregnant – they are in danger,” Pence said. “We now know that some prosecutors do not understand the law, legislative history, or the needs and pain suffered by pregnant women.”

Curry dismissed such concerns, but said he couldn’t speak for how prosecutors around the state may interpret the prevailing Court of Appeals opinion.

“There has been such fundamental misinformation” on Shuai’s case, he said, rejecting arguments that the law as interpreted raises the prospect that women could face criminal charges, for instance, for substance abuse during pregnancy.

On Aug. 2, Carlisle also approved a waiver of fines and court fees for Shuai, who Pence said had limited resources. After the hearing, Pence said Shuai was one of the kindest and most gracious young women she had ever met, working seven days a week at an Indianapolis Chinese restaurant.

Shuai thanked supporters, who she said boosted her spirits while she was jailed. “I was really, really depressed until one day I read a letter a supporter sent to me,” she said. “I remember every one of them.”

Pence said she’s worked seven-day weeks for more than two-and-a-half years, with Shuai’s case dominating her time. She estimated Shuai has received pro bono billable hours exceeding $2 million. “For a small firm like this, that’s monumental,” Pence said.

“This case has tested my beliefs in the justice system. Why did (Shuai) have to be incarcerated in the Marion County Jail for 14 months when she should have been presumed innocent and was absolutely no threat to society,” Pence said.

The same Court of Appeals ruling that said Shuai wasn’t immune from prosecution also said she was entitled to bail, after which she was fitted with a monitoring device pending trial. Shuai spent 435 days in the Marion County Jail before the Court of Appeals ruling, after which she was released on $50,000 bond.

“I’ve lived with it for so long, it’s basically just sinking in that I don’t have to sit with that poor woman in court while the state tried to attack her,” Pence said.•
 

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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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